Easter in Brussels

M., the neighbour upstairs, asks if I am going to plant flowers in the large pots overgrown with weeds and dusty, pollution-corroded rosemary.  She looks disappointed when I say that I’m not going to bother planting anything, since we’re staying in this flat only six months.  As I look at our mini-deck cum terrace, with its floor made of thick, wave-patterned, blueish glass, I think of red geraniums on the kitchen windowsill, trailing their curly, strongly-scented leaves down the wooden planks that make up the wall beneath it.  I imagine the fragrance of lavender, rosemary, sage, mint, tarragon and basil, growing in shiny terracotta pots on the edge of the terrace.  I picture drilling holes in the tired white wall opposite the living room French window, and hanging baskets of honeysuckle, jasmin and any trailing flowers that are bright yellow.  Then I estimate the cost of all the pots and plants, and know I cannot justify the expense for just six months.

What this flat needs to make it into a home, is colour.  It is a flat with scarce daylight, and which the landlord has furnished in cream, camel and grey.

A flat where the light bulbs are those energy-saving ones.  You know – the ones which need so long to light up that by the time they’ve drummed up a furtive light, you’re leaving the room again (not they ever have the honest, strong glow of a traditional 100W or even 60W bulb).  I want to buy a bright-coloured throw and cushions for the sepia sofa.  Once again, not only do I tell myself that it’s an expense we can’t justify for just six months, but my now permanently injured back and neck – acquired after lifting a few boxes too many, a couple of moves ago – remind me that, no, we cannot just carry it all with us to our next home, wherever that might be.

It’s Holy Week, and I want at least to make an Easter meal full of colour.  I have not cooked a traditional Easter meal in years.  I am not even sure what a traditional Easter dish is.  I remember my grandmother’s scrumptious cooking.  I know I cannot reproduce her touch but I start thinking about the flavours and smells in her kitchen.  Of the colours.  Red.  Especially red.

I wrap eggs in onion skins and foil and hard-boil them.  They look like rusty-gold marble, as I stack them in a bowl.  I decide to make my grandmother’s borscht.  I chop onions, carrots, cabbage and potatoes.  I fill a stockpot with glistening white, orange, ivory and light gold.  Then, last but not least, my eyes feast on the dark red of the beetroot I dice before it permeates the other ingredients with its colour so full of life.  After a few minutes, the rich aroma triumphs over the ever-present Brussels smell of dust.

As I cook, the measured voice of the presenter on Radio Klara – which I have on much of the time – announces Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater.  After a couple of weeks here, I am starting to make out some of the Flemish words and every time I do, I feel a sense of glee.  I would like to learn some Dutch while I am here.  A couple of days ago, while buying drawing felt-tip pens from the Flemish stationer, to whom I always speak French, I ask, “Comment on dit ‘Joyeuses Pâques’ en flamand?

She gives me a long look, then enunciates clearly.

Zalig Pasen,” I say, hoping I heard correctly, and that what I am saying is true to my intention.

She smiles, thanks me, and wishes me the same.

Easter would not be complete without an appropriate cake.  When I was a child, my grandmother would make kalach, a cake shaped like a braid closing in on itself.  I remember that Greeks have a very similar sweet, so I go to the Greek café in the square up the road, and ask where I can buy one.  The owner tells me there is a Greek delicatessen shop in Rue Birmingham but that sounds too far away.  I decide that an Italian Colomba will be a very decent substitute, so take a long walk to my favourite Italian alimentari on the Rue Haute but they tell me they’re not stocking any this year.

It’s a sunny day, and I decide to ease my disappointment at the prospect of a cakeless Easter by exploring the quirky Rue Blaes, full of antique dealers and second-hand clothes shops.  Suddenly, across the street, I catch sight of a Polish food shop.   I cheer up.  All is not lost.  Indeed, as I walk in, I see my favourite Polish poppy seed cake, makowiec, by the counter.

Our Easter feast is full of colours and different nations.  Russian rusty-gold coloured eggs, and crimson borscht, Polish gold and black poppy seed cake and a bottle of Italian red wine.

Oh, and, of course, a slab of rich brown Belgian chocolate.  The authentic stuff.

Scribe Doll

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10 Responses to Easter in Brussels

  1. What a beautiful essay. I do hope you had a lovely Easter. I was in Brussels many years ago. I flew out of Brussels in May 1983 on my way home from a year in Germany. After we explored the scenic part of the city, my friends left me in my hotel room, I went for a long walk to see more of the city. I remember the ravages of the Industrial Revolution that had turned angels on churches from white to black. I hope that in 2014 that they are white again. I also remember the chocolate! I hope that Brussels provides a welcoming home for six months. I also hope you can get some relief for your back. I can relate to the many moves and to the boxes of books.

  2. Sally Vaughan says:

    What a wonderful description of the lead up to Easter and the wonderful food you prepared…. can just visualize it all. Hope you had a lovely time.


  3. Anna says:

    Oh our Russian borscht! I like it so much, but mostly cold. Do you know that there are two kinds of borscht – hot and cold. I prefer cold which is usually eaten in the summer. Eggs and cucumbers should be added. And smetana. Not sour cream, but smetana. My English friends and friends from other countries used to tell me that what you call sour cream has nothing to do with Russian smetana. These are quite different things. Hope you have a very good time in Brussels, food and meals included!!)))))

    • scribedoll says:

      Yes, in the summer, my grandmother used to serve it cold but, to be honest, I’ve always preferred it hot (just not very keen on cold food and drinks in general, unless the temperature verges on 40 Celsius). Yes, сметана… The closest I found is what we call crème fraîche, which is a deliciously on the slightly sour side, compared with ordinary cream.

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Anna. Good to hear from you, and I hope you and your family are well.

  4. Beautifully crafted….I could almost taste yer Easter meal:-))

  5. Zalig Pasen! (Did I say it right?) If I weren’t on the other side of the Atlantic, I’d crochet an afghan in bright colors and drop it in the post to you. Maybe you can find some colorful scarves at a second-hand shop, something neither expensive nor bulky. You’ll find a way to make it homey and cheerful — see how well you did with the food? 🙂

  6. Dear Katia, I hope your Easter was just perfect, and that your time in Brussels will continue to be happy. Sorry to hear about your neck and back; maybe some massage therapy, always assuming that it isn’t too costly in Brussels (it is here) would help.

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